To: Sportswriters and Sports Editors
Subject: The NHL playoffs, and your vigorous efforts to ignore them
Put down your Blackberries, Bluetooths and divergent diversions for a while, and permit me to address a serious and widespread illness among our ranks.
The disease is called Total Hockey Ignorance & Calculated Knee-jerkery. THICK, for short. And way too many of you have tested positive for it. The United States in particular has suffered an epidemic of THICKness, and the results of it really put a bee in my boxer shorts.
Conservative estimates show some 90 per cent of you decided against covering a hockey world full of wonders this year. You sneered and snorted at the NHL all season long, as if it were a seven-year-old trying to show you a magic trick. You’d seen the game before, you said, and you certainly weren’t interested in seeing that show pony wobble its way around the track again.
Sucks to be you. Because as you were trotting out the same, sorry storylines, an entire pro league was reinventing itself to glorious effect.
And now that the Stanley Cup playoffs are over, it’s safe to say, Â“You blew it, folks.Â”
While you were cataloguing all things Tiger Woods, the NHL was instituting the type of structural sea changes unheard of in the history any other league. But that wasn’t nearly as interesting as golf.
Read that last sentence again, and it’s clear the sports journalism business has got a THICK problem. However, there’s much more proof of it than that.
While you were layering pound upon pound of praise on the NBA playoffs Â– which featured a squadron of superstar-fearing officials who have driven Mark Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks to the brink of mass referee-choking Â– Carolina goalie Cam Ward was carving out a legend for himself and the Cup-winning Hurricanes with saves neither modern science nor leaps of faith could fathom.
While you were getting your undies in a bunch over Ricky Williams and his Far-Out Adventures in the Canadian Football League, Chris Pronger and the rest of the Edmonton Oilers were making mockeries of all who would bet against a No. 8 playoff seed.
While you were doubting the dubious Barry Bonds and his laughably overgrown melon, the fantastic hometown hero story of Edmonton’s Fernando Pisani got about as much positive U.S. press as Bonds’ Â“realityÂ” TV show.
While you were paying homage to NASCAR’s oil-guzzlin’, bumper-bustin’ circular motions, Anaheim winger Teemu Selanne was putting his own pedal to metal and enjoying the mother of all comeback years with the Mighty Ducks.
While you were detailing every move of the beyond-boring New York Yankees Â– guess what everybody, Steinbrenner’s boys and his unmatchable payroll are tearing up pro baseball again this year! Â– the Buffalo Sabres were dazzling Western New Yorkers at a fraction of the cost.
While you were covering soccer Â– soccer! Â– for a continent utterly unconcerned with the sport, you neglected to note the likes of Patrik Elias and Joe Thornton, both of whom raised their play to staggering heights this year.
Of course, some of this is the NHL’s fault. As has been mentioned on numerous occasions, Gary Bettman’s true test going forward is figuring a way to make players, both individually and collectively, relevant to the casual sports fan again.
In the past, Bettman and his member franchises have failed miserably at the task, which is a big reason why the league’s U.S. TV ratings are now fodder for a comedic hack like Jay Leno.
But we’re to blame, too. Every time one of us cracks wise about hockey players as violent thugs, we reveal ourselves as unfamiliar with the new NHL, which has all but removed fighting from the league. Every time someone argues that nobody south of Canada’s border cares about the sport, we do a massive disservice to the talents of Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, both of whom could convert millions of people into fans of the game.
So let’s put an end to the THICKness, folks. Next season, before you sharpen your knives and take aim at the NHL, take a look at what it’s become. Hockey is far from perfect, but its attempts at progress and transformation should get much more than the yawn-and-shrug show we’ve given it.
Adam Proteau is in Vancouver covering the draft, his column will return July 3
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